Bernie Sanders is Winning with Marijuana
The results of the New Hampshire primary are in and Bernie Sanders won by a landslide. This is a clear demonstration that candidates with a platform that includes a complete end to marijuana prohibition can succeed.
Sanders made headlines when he introduced a bill last year that would completely remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act. S2237 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he is elected President he could make the change from the Executive Office.
This position in stark contrast to his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State has said that she would like to move marijuana down one level to Schedule II in the CSA.
But a shift to Schedule II could spell serious trouble for existing state-level medical and personal use marijuana regulations.
However, taking cannabis out of the CSA would leave regulations intact while removing all barriers to additional states crafting regulations as well as unlimited scientific research of the plant. Such an action would also take away the prohibitions on industrial hemp.
Sanders’ concept would also deal with possession on federal land. Even in states like Colorado getting caught with any amount of cannabis in a National Park can result in up to 6 months in prison, 5 years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
It is not a new idea.
When the CSA was created in 1970 drugs were given “schedules” under the act. Drugs deemed to be without any medical value and with a high potential for addiction, like heroin, were placed in the most restricted category: Schedule I.
Other drugs were tightly regulated, but not outright prohibited, and put into Schedule II, like cocaine and opiates.
After Congress passed the CSA there was some debate as to where marijuana belonged within the new scheme.
Raymond P. Shafer, a two term governor from Pennsylvania, was appointed by President Nixon and he formed a commission of legislators and experts to study the issue of cannabis specifically. Shafer was himself a staunch Republican and also a constitutional scholar.
After 14 months Shafer and his fellow commissioners convened to write their prophetic report in 1972 Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.
Their conclusion was that marijuana possession be a non-criminal offense and that cannabis did not belong in any schedule under the CSA.
Bernie Sanders has consistently put marijuana prohibition into the spotlight. During several debate and numerous stump speeches Sanders has used this line: “It is not acceptable that many young people have criminal records for smoking marijuana, while the CEOs of banks whose illegal behavior helped destroy our economy do not.”
Recent polling indicates that 60 percent of New Hampshire votes favor legalizing marijuana. Sanders’ clear solution may have contributed to his victory there.
On the other side New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s over the top prohibitionist stance may have been part of his downfall. Christie expected to do well in New Hampshire but came in a distant sixth place. While campaigning there he said that if he were elected president he would use federal laws to prosecute Americans in states that had legalized cannabis.
The next test for Democrats is in Nevada on February 20th. A majority of voters in Nevada also support legalization. A ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use in Nevada will go before voters in the General Election this year along with the presidential contest.
If Nevada goes for Sanders it should be a positive signal that the legalization initiative may also succeed there in the fall.